Today is the 45th anniversary of the Salk Vaccine. Dr. Jonas Salk’s polio vaccine was one of the great medical breakthroughs of the 1950s. Some people, who know little or nothing about the 1950s, imagine that we were hiding under our desks all the time terrified of imminent nuclear war. The threat of war was real (though much less immediate than such armchair commentators imagine). Much more immediately threatening, however, were the day-to-day dangers of life – among them the crippling disease of polio. Dr. Salk will always be remembered by my generation as a true human hero.
The 1950s are in my mind right now, because this month’s book to be discussed in our “Great Catholic Fiction” series at Saint Paul the Apostle Parish is John R. Powers’ Catholic nostalgia novel, The Last Catholic in America.
Nostalgia novels naturally exaggerate, and sometimes they can caricature experiences which were perceived as positive (or just thought of as normal) by people at the time. I’ll reserve judgment on The Last Catholic in America, until I have actually read it all (which I will certainly have to do soon before our discussion group meets 2 weeks from today).
Speaking for myself, however, while I am sure I can compile my own personal list of problematic memories, my overall recollection of the now long gone world of New York Bronx Catholicism at the height of the post World War II "Baby Boom is," on balance, positive. In any case, it was a powerful past that had a lot to do with making me the person I am. Undoubtedly one can fall in love with the Church and its liturgy and acquire a love for learning from many sources. In my case, however, those aspects of who I am are all rooted in that fondly remembered world (and the many fondly remembered people who populated it).